Tony Curtis, one of the towering figures of film for decades whose range as an actor spanned drama, comedy and everything in between, has died at his Las Vegas home after suffering from poor health in recent years. He was 85.
Clark County coroner Mike Murphy said the actor died at 9:25 p.m. Mountain time Wednesday (Sept. 29) of a cardiac arrest.
He suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and since 2006, when he suffered a serious case of pneumonia, he had been confined to a wheelchair.
A representative for the actor’s daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, also confirmed the death.
During his long career, Curtis starred in more than 140 movies, including such memorable hits as Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot” with Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon.
His real name was Bernard Schwartz, born in the Bronx in New York on June 23, 1925, but determined to see the world.
He joined the Navy when he was 17 and took acting classes under the GI Bill. It may have been one of the better uses of taxpayer money.
He landed an agent, went to Hollywood and debut as an uncredited rumba dancer in 1943’s “Criss Cross.”
“I had all that – dark hair and blue eyes, a nice figure, jumping around, kissing girls, a lot of energy, hip-hop jumping around,” Curtis boasted in an interview once. “I mean, how could you not go for me? I even went for me!”
Curtis starred in such diverse roles as escape artist Harry Houdini, a noble slave in “Sparticus,” with Kirk Douglas, and a hustling Naval officer in “Operation Petticoat.”
He received an Oscar nomination in 1959 for “The Defiant Ones.” He starred with Sidney Poitier and they played a pair of escaped convicts. Both received Best Actor Academy Award nominations for the film.
During his heyday, Curtis lived large and epitomized the golden years of Hollywood. He was married six times, most recently to Jill VandenBerg, and had six children, two of which Jaime Lee and Kelly Curtis, went into acting.
He also had an star-crossed romance with Monroe, who was the leading sex siren of that time.
His son Nicholas died of a heroin overdose in 1994 aged just 23, and during the 1970s, Curtis also suffered from an addiction to cocaine and alcohol.
But his career overshadowed his personal travails. Throughout his life, Curtis also enjoyed painting, and since the early 1980s, painted as a second career.